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Forum for Teaching Foreign Languages
December 15, 2005

A Calvin College senior recently created an online forum for Christian teachers of foreign languages.

The site gives both secondary and college-level teachers an online meeting ground for swapping creative ideas about curriculum and pedagogy, says its creator, Spanish and religion major Ashley Uyaguari.

“Being a teacher, you have to be very creative, and the more outside sources you have, the better,” she says

The forum is the first of its kind for Christian foreign language educators, says David Smith, the professor of Germanic and Asian languages who encouraged Uyaguari to launch the forum. There is, he adds, a Christian professional association that is restricted to college language teachers.

“There’s been a felt need for a couple of years for Christian language teachers to network with each other because there’s been a long dissatisfaction with published materials and a need for fresh discussion of new Christian approaches,” he says. “Meeting once a year at conferences is not enough. So this just gives people an opportunity to share ideas and keep in touch.”

Indeed, a dissatisfaction with foreign language curriculum was her strongest motivator for starting the site, Uyaguari says.

"The main point for our sharing is a lot of people don’t have textbooks for the way we want to teach foreign languages.”

She hopes the forum will facilitate encourage a new approach to language study.

“Foreign languages are often taught in a way to make students good tourists,” she explains.“We want to teach them to be good people, good friends, hospitable people. And we wanted to be able to share these ideas with people instead of waiting around for someone to write a Christian textbook.”

Discussions on the forum range from textbook recommendations to lesson planning to ideas for games. A recent thread debated whether or not teachers should assign students names from the foreign language being taught — a common classroom icebreaker and pedagogical tool.

“The reason some of us thought it wasn’t a good idea is that our names are linked to our identities, and we shouldn’t lose that just because we’re studying a foreign language,” Uyaguari says.

One forum member shared her practice of assigning students foreign-language nicknames instead.

“So that’s something I might add to my teaching that I’d never thought of before,” Uyaguari says.

As moderator of the forum, she does a lot of maintenance keeping it going.

“I have to check it pretty often," she says. "Also I’m taking up the role of starting up a new discussion if people can’t think of things to talk about. But it’s something I enjoy. The time that it takes isn’t a burden at all.”

She praised Smith’s recent book, The Gift of the Stranger (co-authored with Calvin professor of Germanic and Asian languages Barbara Carville) and his classes for teaching her a more people-centered Christian approach to language instruction.

Uyaguari has designed a curriculum unit together with another student, Kate Landau, using the biography of a real-life Ecuadorian woman, Lupita, which will be used in Smith’s upcoming book, Spirituality, Social Justice and Language Learning.

“I’ve been doing this thing the last few years in my foreign language pedagogy class, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anybody as excited as Ashley was to do her unit,” Smith says about Uyaguari’s biography project. "The unit she did with Kate ties into a lot of current discussion on immigration and language instruction. It’s a natural theme to bring into Spanish language curriculum. She’s one of a number of great students I’ve had in that class.”

Uyaguari, who married an Ecuadorian man she met in New York while researching her “Lupita” project, has had a longtime love for foreign language study, and she wants to pass it on.

Raised in Falmouth, Massachusetts, Uyaguari became a Christian when she was 16.

“I was floored to find out there were Christian schools. I didn’t have very many people my age who shared my faith. To think about studying with other people who shared my faith was just amazing,” she says. “I wanted to go to a Christian school, did some research, visited and really loved Calvin."

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson